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Over the summer, we traveled to Masterpiece London to meet with the Taiwanese jewelry designer Cindy Chao. It was her second time exhibiting at the fair and she was presenting four new pieces—the Solstice Sculptural Bangle, Damask Rose Brooch, Emerald Ribbon Brooch, and Pink Sapphire Architectural Necklace—from her eponymous label, CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel, which she founded in Taipei in 2004.
Chao’s immersive installation welcomed guests to a tree with jewel boxes positioned within its branches that held both past and new designs alike. Immediately, it was clear why her designs garner global attention. Captivating qualities inspired by architecture and nature are created with precise artisanal techniques and the world’s finest materials. In the booth, we were dazzled by bangles, bowties, and brooches displayed on a flexible anodized metal surface—a design conceived over six years.
After exploring her immersive jewelry presentation, Whitewall spoke with Chao about her latest creations, why architecture and nature are such strong touchpoints in her work, and how ancient sculpting techniques still reign.
WHITEWALL: Your family’s heritage in architecture has been known to impact your creativity since your label’s founding in 2004. You also mentioned that you originally thought you wanted to be an architect but found yourself at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Tell us a bit about your upbringing and why you decided to work with jewelry instead.
CINDY CHAO: As a child, I was surrounded by creativity, and most of my days were spent with two masters: my father and grandfather. My grandfather was a noted architect, and my father, who was a sculptor, taught me to consider each angle, form, and expression of what I observe, and to transform observations into well-rounded creations.
I discovered that architecture and jewelry share similar characteristics. Terms I grew up familiar with—such as “colors,” “structure,” “layers,” “space,” “light,” and “curves”—were also used to describe different elements in jewelry. These bring me fascination again and again, and I cannot help but immerse myself in this three-dimensional art of jewelry.
Most importantly, when I learned about the ancient wax sculpting technique, I realized how I could extend my passion for architecture to jewelry design. The technique allowed me to make miniature sculptures in the same way architects design buildings. Although results of my expressions are different from my father’s and my grandfather’s, the spirit is the same.
With the belief that every piece of jewelry may and should be a miniature work of sculptural art, I established my brand, trying to break boundaries between art and jewelry.
WW: Can you walk us through your creative process, beginning with a wax molding?
CC: Wax sculpting, the initial stage, allows me to visualize the three- dimensional aspects. As I carve the wax, I am freely led by inspiration. In some scenarios, gemstones are temporarily fit on the wax model to accurately calculate the final setting positions. The process is incredibly intricate due to the complex undulating lines, but the wax technique is the only approach that guarantees the perfect result—to feel it, touch it, and view it from every angle.
Once the wax models are completed, we create sketches to help the diamond setters and master craftsmen visualize the coloration of the final art jewel. The wax models, sketches, and selected diamonds and gemstones are then sent to our exclusive ateliers in Europe. The master craftsmen transform the wax into gold, silver, or titanium; chisel and polish the metal base; and eventually set the thousands of gemstones.
The final setting is the most challenging step, as I explore the three-dimensional inlay technique to its highest form. It must maximize the brilliance of gems by considering their unique characteristics. The work is so precise that my craftsmen can only spend three hours a day on the task.
I travel to Switzerland and France to visit the ateliers almost every other two or three weeks. It is very important that I be there, see and feel the pieces during the progress, and brainstorm with the craftsmen. It is very rewarding to feed off each other’s energy and ideas, and bring forth the beautiful works of art.
WW: Tell us about some of your latest creations in the “Black Label Masterpieces” collection you presented at Masterpiece London.
CC: The Solstice Sculptural Bangle features a 12.51-carat conch pearl. I painted the canvas in 18-karat yellow gold with nearly 5,400 pieces of diamonds, fancy-colored diamonds, green sapphires and alexandrites—all totaling to 260 carats. The green hue of green sapphires and alexandrites strike a contrast with the natural conch pearl, ingeniously accentuating its beautiful flame-like appearance.
This piece demonstrated my color-arrangement skills. I am particular sensitive to color gradations, something I find indispensable to create visual impact. I owe this to training from my grandfather back in the days when no technology could be relied on. At his construction sites, he showed me the art of toning to create a palette of colors with subtle nuances. At the beginning, I could not tell any difference with my naked eye, but he would repeatedly insist until he would find the correct color he was going to use on a column—a technique I eventually adapted.
In the Pink Sapphire Architectural Necklace, my creative DNA as an architect was demonstrated. This is a constellation of 17 pieces of oval- shaped modified brilliant-cut vivid pink sapphires, each of 4 to 11 carats. The magnificent gems are built on an organic, diamond-drifted structure scattered with natural pink conch pearls and fancy-cut yellow diamonds. The space between the gems allows light to come in and reflect through the main gemstones to create fire brilliance. This three-dimensional necklace is a miniature flowing galaxy that offers an introduction to my universe of jewelry art.
WW: You began collecting art ten years ago. Can you tell us about what’s found in your collection?
CC: Being a sculptor’s daughter, I’ve always been drawn to sculptures, especially in bronze or brass, as they are so versatile in terms of the techniques and effects one could impose on them. My first piece is a bronze sculpture from Ju Ming’s “Taichi” series. It has certain spiritual aspects associated with life—the moment in between static and movement.
Another artist I admire is the Christian artist Makoto Fujimura. Makoto has a unique and beautiful way of using art to instill a feeling of peace through his works. The colors are vibrant, yet calming, and leave you with a sense of ease. I bought Kusei Awakening from Makoto Fujimura, and it is now in my Hong Kong showroom.
To me, each piece in my collection resonates with my heart, and I believe this is the same for all art collectors.